Fresh Pepper Kimchi
With the recent popularity of kimchi, and fermenting in general, there have to be hundreds of recipes available online and in print. So why the hell do we need another one, you may ask? Because you need ONE TO CALL YOUR OWN! Fermented food is a natural expression of local bacteria. The subtle differences in the byproducts of these bacteria make every version unique to where it was fermented. Likewise, the ingredients in your fermentation hold the essence of your locality just as much as the bacteria.
This recipe is all about making a personalized kimchi. Traditional kimchi is flavored with Korean chile powder…but instead of chasing down a hard-to-find spice mix, I used a mix of locally available fresh chiles and turned it into a paste to flavor the kimchi. You can customize the flavor and heat level of your kimchi by choosing your own mix of peppers, based on what is available and what you like. Choose mostly hot peppers if you are a spice fiend or stick with mild chiles if you want a tamer flavor profile. You could also smoke, grill or broil the chiles before pureeing to add yet another layer of flavor. I used a mix of Carmen, jalapeno and serrano chiles because that is what I found at my local farmers market.
A quick tip I want to pass on that I learned from Stephanie at Colyco Farm: when choosing peppers, those with stress marks will be hotter than those without. See those little white lines on the top pepper in the picture below that kind of look like stretch marks? Those are stress marks. It is always hard to tell what heat level you will get out of fresh peppers but this might help you narrow down which ones to choose a bit more.
Second, while it is easy enough to buy Korean chili powder online or in a local market, I just don’t need one more item in my spice cabinet. Chiles grow locally in most parts of the country so chances are you will see them at your local market (or maybe even grow them yourself). And even if you don’t, you can find a basic mix at the grocery store year around. If you are going the local route, the chile season might not overlap perfectly with the cabbage season. No worries – simply make the chile paste, freeze it and then finish it off when you can get local cabbage.
There are no hard and fast rules for how much paste you need – mine is quite flavorful and spicy so I think you could easily reduce the amount and still have a great end result. Also, you can see that the texture of the paste I used was closer to salsa. I would use less vinegar the next time around (which is why I call for a range in the recipe below) but even though it had a bit more liquid, the end result was still great.
Now, if you happen to be new to fermenting, I cut and paste a quick overview below that I had originally written for Tant Hill Farm. I think it gives you a good idea of the major items you need to know to successfully ferment at home.
Crucial Steps for Successful Lacto-Fermenting at Home
- Salt is crucial because it both draws liquid from the vegetable, creating its own brine, and also creates an atmosphere where only healthy bacteria can thrive.
- Amount: most resources recommend using 2% – 5% salt of the fermented vegetables weight. That means trim, peel and cut your vegetables before weighing them and THEN calculate the amount of salt you need. I typically use about 3.5% salt and have had great results. I would highly suggest investing in a digital scale to make this step easy.
- Type: do a quick online search and you will find different opinions on whether the type of salt you use makes a difference of not. It comes down to the amount of sodium in your salt, and luckily, it is printed in the nutrition section on the box. Table salt typically has 580mg in 1/4 teaspoon and sea salt has 440mg in 1/4 teaspoon. So, given that I typically measure my salt using a teaspoon or tablespoon, if you use table salt, it will result in a saltier (and sometimes too salty) end product. In the end, I recommend looking at the sodium content on your salt box and if you have a choice, use the salt with the lower amount.
- Lacto-fermentation is an anaerobic process, meaning it happens in the absence of air. That is why it is so important to have all vegetables submerged under the brine and all air-pockets removed. You will often see recipes that state you should add the vegetables a little at a time, pounding them down between each addition. This helps to ensure there are no air pockets remaining. You can also tap the finished ferment on the counter lightly or use a long skewer to remove any trapped air bubbles. There are all sorts of gadgets on the market to help – I love using the Kraut Source but you can use just about anything. It can be as simple as filling a plastic bag with brine and setting it on top to keep the vegetables submerged.
- Time & Temperature:
- Time and temperature work hand in hand. You can ferment anywhere between 55°F and 80°F. The lower the temperature, the slower the fermentation and conversely, the higher the temperature, the faster the fermentation. This also affects the flavor – slow fermentations typically have more complex, nuanced flavor whereas fast fermentations can have more intense flavors with a higher chance for off-flavors. There is a useful rule of thumb that states for every 10°C rise in temperature, the rate of reaction doubles. As an example, if it is 10°C (or about 18°F) hotter in your kitchen, expect your fermentation to finish in half the time. In the end, tasting your fermentation every day is the only way to know how it is progressing.
Fresh Pepper Kimchi
An easy way to make a local and customizable kimchi!
Start by preparing the napa cabbage: trim the root end and then slice in half length-wise. Turn cabbage cut side down and slice thinly cross-wise. Weigh the prepared cabbage and add 3.5% salt by weight (see story above for more details). My trimmed cabbage weighed 1 pound 6 ounces to which I added 1 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon canning salt. Massage the cabbage and salt together until the cabbage has wilted and it has released it's moisture. Set aside.
Add the remaining ingredients to a food processor, starting with 2 tablespoons of vinegar, adding more if necessary, to create a pesto-like paste. Add paste to the cabbage and mix well to combine.
Pack into a quart-sized canning jar by adding a small amount of the cabbage mixture at a time and packing down with the back of a large spoon before repeating the process. Run a skewer around the jar to release any air bubbles. Weigh down the cabbage to ensure it is completely submerged under the liquid (see story above for more details).
Set aside to ferment - the time will depend on the temperature of your space along with your taste preferences. Taste it often to decide when it is finished (I let mine ferment for 1 week). Transfer to the refrigerator and eat within a couple of months.